Monday, December 23, 2013

And so this is Christmas and what have you done?

Well thanks for asking, John Lennon. Do you genuinely want to know, or are you passively-aggressively asking why I haven't written a blog post in 6 months?

"Retired" is, I suppose, the answer. I thought Detective Chow had been languishing in some back office somewhere, steaming open fortune cookies. But no, I think it's safe to say that he was given a quiet retirement morning tea and maybe a small speech with jokes about Molly and missing receipts. The thing is he just always took a lot longer to do something that should have been quite simple. Take a few photos, throw together some descriptive words, publish the damned review. But no, he had to go out of his way to make things difficult for himself and eat up a whole lot of time in the process. I mean, 12 hours to write a restaurant review? When you can tweet or urbanspoon or yelp the same conclusion in 30 seconds? Give me a break.

So, yeah, that. I enjoyed my time with Detective Chow, and still occasionally tweet as him (@foodscene).

So what have I done? In the ~18 months Detective Chow was blogging I think I did a lot I can be proud of.

Helping the little guy
When I started reading food blogs I noticed the same places coming up again and again. I guess if it's popular you want to check it out. But these were established blogs so what was the point in adding to the noise? Instead I focussed on smaller places in my local beat. Places like Oldtown in Newtown (breakfast and dinner), Fish & Co, Jester Seeds (my first post, now closed) and a bunch of others which are now closed.

My top five
I think my top five posts are as follows:
#5: South Coast food tour. Somehow this is my #1 post in terms of traffic. Which is great, seeing as (like the tour itself) the post showcases small producers and providores who deserve some attention.

#4: "No photos" Greek restaurant. What do you do when your blog is a photo comic and the restaurant tells you not to take photos of the food? You use paper cut-outs to tell an epic tale of Chinese and Greek philosophy.

#3: In which Detective Chow borrows from The Man from Snowy River (Sixpenny). Rather than being clever, this format was directly inspired by the restaurant experience. Sixpenny uses local and indigenous ingredients, and the Australianness really came through. So to capture some of that I turned to some great Australian poetry. I think I managed to a) describe the food, b) be loyal to the poetry, and c) take some excellent photos. And bonus points for the mouseover text on this one.

#2: Marque, in the style of a children's spy activity book with added Bond villain. This was again inspired by the restaurant experience itself. Marque doesn't give you a menu for the degustation; each dish is a surprise revealed when it is served. To recapture that experience I wrote some silly riddles for each dish, and spent hours finding some javascript code that would work in Blogger to make the answers reveal on a click. That and I think it's the first time I was so proud of my photos that I couldn't bear to put the lettering over the top of the photos themselves. It's also probably my favourite dinner ever.

#1: Postcards from a street food vendor in Vietnam. This was maybe my favourite holiday ever -- at least in terms of food -- and it's possibly my most useful post (well, series of posts) in terms of being a guide for people going to north Vietnam. Eating at these places instead of the tourist traps will completely change your Vietnam experience. Complete with Google maps with the locations and descriptions embedded. Four posts cover Hanoi, Cat Ba, Hoi An Part 1 and Hoi An Part 2.

And so Detective Chow and Molly finally said "I'm full", drained their glasses, and asked for the bill. Then they did a runner.

And they all ate happily ever after.

The End.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Oldtown in Newtown II: Dinner -- or -- Everything Oldtown is Newtown again

Previously on F.S.I. Sydney: Breakfast at Oldtown in Newtown.
I'm on something of an Italian train of thought here. Train of eat, anyway. I accept none of the blame. It's wintry cold and these places right in my neighbourhood keep promising hot, meaty stews. So I'm heading back in. And this time I'm bringing backup.

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Osteria di Russo & Russo, Enmore -- or -- The meaningful interpretation of Italian food

In which Detective Chow enjoys books and wine, records and fine foods. Note that the plates below are servings for 2 people: the Ultra Bene (6 course) option, where chef picks from the menu based on what's good that day.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Oldtown in Newtown -- or -- Back on the beat

Back on home turf. Newtown. South wing of King St. A few new places cropping up, including this Italianesque cafe which is open for breakfast on weekends. (Though 9am is a fairly late opening time, brekky is served until 5pm.) I popped in for dinner about a month ago and it was excellent, so thought I'd come back to try the morning fare. The menu is really interesting. Everything looks good, and there is a mix of 'please everybody' and 'something a little different' dishes. I'll have to come back to try some other things while sitting at one of the sunny outdoor tables.

Disclaimer: At the end of the meal I was given a jar of Oldtown's store-made preserved cherries to take home. I added an extra-large tip, though, to cover the cost. So I think we're about even.

Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Waku Ghin, Singapore, or Credit Karma Brings Chow Crashing Down

"Dear Detective Chow," writes Sally from Enmore. "I noticed that you haven't written in your weblog for a while. Is everything alright? Did you get food poisoning or something? Also, I was wondering, what is the most expensive meal you have ever eaten?" -- Sally, Enmore, aged 11.
Well, Sally, thanks for writing.

First things first. Yes, everything is alright. No, I didn't get food poisoning. Just a severe reprimand following something the bureaucrats call "an audit of expenses." As punishment I have been relegated to eating at the F.S.I. canteen and investigating the lack of hot taps and hand sanitiser in restaurant kitchens. Not, I assure you, something worth blogging about.

I know what you're thinking. The answer to your third question also answers the question I'm sure you're dying to ask next: what is "an audit of expenses" and why did I get into such trouble?

Well, Sally, the thing you hopefully haven't learned yet in your short, innocent life, is that sometimes we do something we're not proud of. And we get away with it. So we do it again. And again. Bigger and bolder. And before you know it you're in Singapore throwing around fifties and slapping down your corporate credit card at the end of the evening.

Singapore. It's hot. But that's not the worst of it. It's the humidity, Sally. Thick wet air that hangs off your body like one of those sleeping bag blankets with arms. I'm not making excuses, Sally, but people do stupid things in this heat. Like visit the world's 68th best restaurant (11th in Asia), where you sit in a private dining room with your own chef manning the grill, without paying attention to the cost. (There is always a cost, Sally. See the exercise at the end of this post.)

"We'd like to introduce you to your dishes."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Postcards from Vietnam part 4: Hoi An part 2

Day 3: Animals / exploring
In the way into town from Da Nang we finally saw the iconic Vietnam scenery we'd been hanging for: rice padis being worked by locals in straw pointy hats. Although bicycles were available to us, you have to be braver and surer than I on two wheels in traffic to actually try to transport yourself by this method. (Okay, it was far safer here than in Hanoi, especially once you got out of the old town. It could actually have been pleasant, and we could have seen far more. But then there's the idea of cycling on a full stomach -- and in Vietnam my stomach was never wanting.) A decent stroll out of town led us back to this idyllic scene. And water buffalo, carp, frogs, rats, birds, chatty locals, and plants that shrivel up when you touch them. It was awesome. Unfortunately, it was not the nicest day for it -- hence the grey skies and raincoats.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

South Coast Portraits: Berry and beyond

The Bureau is going through some corporate re-jig. I don't know what's going on, Molly. Don't know how much you know.

This ground was recently trodden by the extremely capable Not Quite Nigella, and other places in the region by the reasonably capable me. But this time I've been sent down to Berry to 'get some perspective'.


Sunday, February 3, 2013

Postcards from Vietnam part 3: Hoi An (street food and Morning Glory)

I once again followed in the distinguished footsteps of He Needs Food, whose beautiful photos of Hoi An scenery, people and food are to be envied.

Hoi An: Street food
Armed as I was with knowledge and confidence from the Hanoi tour, approaching the ladies squatting by the smoky barbecue and asking for a plate of whatever they had was easy. And boy am I glad. A big tray of greens, noodles, and rice papers plus barbecued pork (squished between a split skewer) and a hot, tick, slightly sweet dipping sauce with peanuts, chilli, sesame seeds, sesame oil, vinegar and oyster sauce. And, probably, fish sauce. So smokey and rich.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

Postcard from Vietnam part 2: Cat Ba island and Lan Ha Bay

Island Paradise (Day 1)
OK Molly, I've got nothing on the amazing photos of Vietnamese island paradise that HNF sends around. But I can tell you that, even on an overcast day, Lan Ha Bay is pretty darn spectacular. Sitting in a kayak in a quiet lagoon, entered via stone archway at low tide, is the farthest from noise and traffic I've been since I left home. It is wonderful. I could spend a week here, but have decided to cut it short to get the bus-boat-bus-killme-pleaseGod-anotherbus-ripofftaxi-nicetaxi back to Hanoi to make sure I make it to the airport on time. I wish I could have stayed at least another few days.

The food here in Cat Ba is variously terrible and wonderful. Dinner was a shocker.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Postcards from Vietnam part 1: Hanoi Street Food Tour

Greetings from Vietnam, Molly. Are you missing me?

Booking a 3-day 'tag-along' street food tour of Hanoi may be the second greatest travel decision, just after 'rent a car in Cyprus and drive to the North and eat lunch sitting on Roman ruins overlooking the sea'. Spirit House (a restaurant in Qld which I believe is quite incredible) sends their chefs to SE-Asia to learn more about the food, and they let you come with them. Just a short time with our Hanoi food tour guide, Sarah, gave us insight into the food and culture, access to some of the best food around the city, and the confidence to eat anything, anywhere. It was the perfect introduction to Vietnam. (Unfortunately my actual introduction was lunch and dinner at two places 'recommended' by the hotel, which were terrible and quite expensive. Pro-tip: Don't eat anywhere that's on the mass-produced hotel map 'recommended' list. Avoid, with prejudice.)

Alright then. How do I do it? How do I distill 13 days, 1500 photos, 57 dishes, 2 cooking classes in 2 cities... into a postcard? One image, 13 lines. Guess I gotta start by trying.

Hanoi, Vietnam

Food Tour Day 1
I'll admit it, Molly. I don't have a strong grasp of what Vietnamese food actually is. Pretty sure it involves pho, rice paper, fresh herbs and lime. Probably noodles, rice, and fish sauce. This bun rieu cua is way off the scale. Sure it's noodle soup, but so different to pho. Rich, salty broth with pounded crab meat and noodles. Throw in some greens, chili, squeeze of cumquat juice, and you have yourself a delicious start to the day. Followed it up with a banh ran ngot (sweet, fried bread thing) on a street corner for breakfast dessert. Then ducked into the markets to see some fresh produce and eat some goi du du (papaya salad) and banh mot loc (little prawn parcels). Topped it all off with a sabayon coffee (sweet and eggy) at a secret rooftop cafe, and plans to meet for dinner.

Pro-tip: Even the locals are paranoid about the water, so everyone uses bottled water for broths, drinks etc. Bottled water = happy stomach.